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Thursday, Oct 06, 2022

And let the Parliament Session begin… with a call for debate by PM, then protests over none in House

On July 19, the House saw adjournments amidst protests over the GST hike and the rise in prices. Cong's Jairam Ramesh tweeted that while the Oppn wanted to raise the “intolerable price rise and increase in GST” in the House, “the Modi Sarkar is unwilling to have a debate”.

Opposition members stage a protest in the well of the Rajya Sabha during ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, July 20, 2022. (Sansad TV/PTI Photo)

Addressing the media before the Monsoon Session of Parliament that began on July 18, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said: “We always consider the House an efficient medium of dialogue… where there is dialogue with an open mind, there are fierce debates if needed. There is also criticism. By very good analysis of things, a very positive contribution can be made to policies and decisions.”

A day later, on July 19, the House saw adjournments amidst protests over the GST hike and the rise in prices. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted that while the Opposition wanted to raise the “intolerable price rise and increase in GST” in the House, “the Modi Sarkar is unwilling to have a debate”.

Under the Modi government that came to power in 2014, one of the Opposition’s main complaints has been this. It accuses the government of forestalling discussion on account of its overwhelming majority, the PM of not respecting the House enough to stay through a sitting, his government of largely doing away with the norm of referring Bills to parliamentary committees for consideration, of rushing through legislation amidst din in the House, and of getting around its lower numbers in the Rajya Sabha by introducing laws as money Bills.

And yet, like he did this time, the Sessions started with Modi saying his government welcomed debate and healthy discussion.

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2022 Budget Session (January 31 to April 7)

In his speech before the Session began, Modi talked of the importance of vaccines, going on to say: “The conversations we have with our respected members of Parliament… with an open heart, are important for taking the country towards the path of progress… It is important that we have important conversations, respectful conversations, and conversations with good intentions.”

PRS Legislature, a non-profit research firm that releases reports on every House Session, later noted that none of the Bills introduced in this Session, that saw the passage of the Budget, were referred to parliamentary committees. The productivity of the Session remained high, as the Opposition tried to pin the government down, and the latter stood its ground. While Lok Sabha productivity stood at 123 per cent, it was 90 per cent in the Rajya Sabha, as per PRS data.

2021 Winter Session (November 29 to December 22)

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At the start of the Session, Modi said while talking to the media: “Our government is ready to answer all questions during the Winter Session of Parliament.” Stating that “the dignity of the House and the Chair must be maintained”, he said, “We should debate in the Parliament, and maintain the decorum of the proceedings. Sawaal bhi, shanti bhi (There must be questions and peace too).”

Opposition members during a protest against inflation and the Union Governments decision to increase GST on food items, near the Gandhi statue at Parliament complex, in New Delhi, Wednesday, July 20. (PTI)

But the Session was rocky, dominated by debate on the contentious farm laws, which the Modi government had withdrawn a month earlier in November 2021. The Farm Laws Repeal Bill had cleared the two Houses via voice vote without any discussion, as the Opposition protested.

“When it is listed as consideration and passing of the Bill, why can’t there be a debate? This government, since 2014, has been passing and repealing Bills without any discussion. You have taken this House for a ride,” Adhir Chowdhary, Congress leader in the Lok Sabha, said.

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At least three Opposition MPs claimed they had got “unsatisfactory replies” from Treasury benches and spoke of BJP MPs’ “inability” to address questions directly in the Lok Sabha.

2021 Monsoon Session (July 19 to August 11)

The PM appealed to all to get vaccine shots and maintain Corona protocol. He added that he was comfortable with being asked “teekhe sawaal (pointed questions)”, and urged that the government be given an “opportunity to answer them in a peaceful fashion”, saying this would give democracy an “opportunity to grow” and for “the gati (momentum) of progress to increase”.

The Session, originally scheduled from July 19 to August 13, ended two days earlier due to protests in both Houses over the Pegasus snooping scandal, the farmer agitation, and the rise in prices.

In its report on the Session, PRS noted: “Parliament functioned for less than a quarter of the scheduled time, and several Bills were passed within minutes, without any discussion.”

The presiding officers of both the Houses – Om Birla in the Lok Sabha, and M Venkaiah Naidu in the Rajya Sabha – expressed their disappointment with the proceedings.

2021 Budget Session (January 29 to March 25)

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This Session had to be curtailed due to demands by political parties in both Houses “so that Members could participate in the election process in certain States/UTs”.

PRS noted that Question Hour – the first hour where MPs can raise questions – functioned for just a little over 50% of the time in both Houses.

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None of the Bills was referred to committees. 76 per cent of the Budget was passed without discussion, PRS data said.

2020 Winter Session

It was cancelled due to Covid-19.

2020 Monsoon Session (September 14 to September 23)

Right before the Session, the PM said: “ As long as there is good discussion, depth, variety in the sadan (Parliament)… the country will benefit.”

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Later, in that Session, eight MPs were suspended on grounds of disorderly conduct. On September 20, the MPs had protested against the passing of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill in the Rajya Sabha. Their demand that the Bills be referred to a Select Committee were ignored.

2020 Budget Session (January 31 to March 23)

Talking to the media before the Session, Modi promised “a new decade”. “We should make an effort to talk about ujjwal bhavishya (bright future)… discuss the empowerment of people… Every day our levels of discussion need to become better.”

As he was making the speech, Congress leaders including Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were holding a protest in the Parliament complex against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. Party leaders raised slogans and held placards reading “Save the Constitution” and “Save India”.

Apart from the CAA, the Session was marked by heated discussions about the dilution of Article 370 (by the government a year earlier), the proposed NRC, and the violence and police action on the Jawaharlal Nehru University campus.

2019 Winter Session (November 18 to December 13)

In a speech before the Session, Modi spoke of the 70th Constitution Day, which was commemorated with a function in the Central Hall of Parliament. He also thanked parliamentarians for the previous Session and said: “I hope we continue to have discussions that take us along the path of progress… I hope there are conversations on all topics, and that there is quality conversation, with agreements and disagreements.”

This Session saw passing of 10 Bills, including the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill.
The Question Hour was productive, with 37% of the questions being answered in the Lok Sabha and 60% in the Rajya Sabha orally, the highest in 20 years, according to PRS data.

2019 Monsoon Session (June 17 to August 7)

In the first Session after the BJP returned to power with a massive victory, Modi spoke about the importance of cultivating “nishpaksh (neutral) spirit”, notwithstanding the elections.

PRS data showed the Session was one of the Lok Sabha’s most productive since 2000. The Rajya Sabha though saw disruptions and protests against Assam’s draft NRC. This Session also saw a no-confidence motion being moved against the government by the Opposition and discussed for 12 hours by 51 members, before it was defeated by 199 votes.

PRS also noted how “fewer Bills are being referred to Parliamentary Committees (26%), as compared to the 15th Lok Sabha (71%) and the 14th Lok Sabha (60%)”.

2019 Budget Session (June 17 to August 7)

Addressing the last Session before the general election, Modi said: “We saw how Parliament was stopped last time. People are aware, they follow the proceedings of Parliament closely… Whoever is not interested in debate and discussion naturally will see the birth of resentment in society. I hope you keep the sentiments of people in mind, and make this Session worthwhile… I am interested in all kinds of discussions, I invite all kinds of discussions.”

The Session was marked by protests in the House over the Rafale deal. However, as per PRS data, Lok Sabha worked for 281 hours, which was 135% of the scheduled hours, higher than any other Session of Parliament in 20 years.

2018 Winter Session (December 11 to January 8, 2019)

This Session saw one of the least productive Question Hours of the 16th Lok Sabha, functioning for its entire duration on only two days.

Before the Session, the PM appealed for “an open discussion”, while referring to the coming general election. “We have to face the electoral test in May (next year). While keeping the people in mind, we will utilise the Session for public interest and not political interest.”

However, there was little chance for that, with the Session consumed by the Opposition seeking to pin the government down over the Rafale deal. The Constitution amendment Bill providing 10% reservation to the economically weak in the general category was tabled and passed in this Session.

First published on: 20-07-2022 at 08:15:58 pm
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